SARATOGA SPRINGS — Trainer Chad Brown has been generous in his participation in the Travers Stakes, especially in the last four years.
The race has not reciprocated.
When someone who grew up in Mechanicville — whose family still claims the same picnic table next to the same tree in the Saratoga Race Course backyard that they have for decades — says he’d rather win the Travers than the Kentucky Derby, you tend to believe him.
But the race has not been kind to the 41-year-old Brown, who has sent a Preakness winner and an Eclipse Award winner, among his 10 Travers entries since 2011, to Saratoga’s signature race, and he has never even hit the board, much less win it.
Brown’s latest attempt will rely on the dark brown legs of Country Grammer, who bolstered his Travers consideration by winning the Grade III Peter Pan at Saratoga on July 16, opening day of the meet.
He’ll be up against it with the likes of Tiz the Law, the best 3-year-old in training, marked for heavy favoritism in Saturday’s 151st Travers. But Brown knows he has a good horse, and the extra motivation from having Saratoga literally be his backyard makes winning the Travers all the more important of a goal.
“It’s how I feel,” Brown said on Saturday, after Country Grammer put in a serious maintenance breeze on the main track. “You grow up in Saratoga and come to the track, and the Travers is the first major race I ever went to growing up. So it’s always going to be at the top of my list, if we can get it. Hopefully, it’s this year, and if it’s not, we’ll never stop trying.”
Brown has been trying.
His first Travers horse was Bowman’s Causeway, in 2011. He finished seventh.
His best shot was with Good Magic in 2018, but the 2017 champion 2-year-old colt, who was second in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness to Triple Crown winner Justify, was ninth in the Travers as the 7-5 betting favorite.
Cloud Computing ran in 2017 after having won the Preakness, but he was eighth in the Travers.
Brown’s other Travers runners were Street Life in 2012 (11th), Gift Box, Connect and My Man Sam in 2016 (fourth, sixth and eighth, respectively), Gronkowski with Good Magic in 2018 (eighth) and Highest Honours and Looking At Bikinis last year (sixth and 11th, respectively).
On this atypical stakes calendar disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown is hoping that Country Grammer, a late foal born in May of 2017, is coming into his own at the right time of the year.
“I’m not going to run any horse in any race, including the Travers, unless I think we have some chance in the race,” he said. “I think the horse earned it.”
The Brown picnic table will go unoccupied this year, with no fans, other than a sprinkling of owners, allowed on the grounds because of the pandemic.
That development has become routine over the course of 14 racing days so far, but the Travers, which was capped at 50,000 admission a few years ago, is unique for track goers by virtue of the high demand for the on-track experience.
“It’s definitely going to be a weird, probably depressing feeling, in a way,” Brown said. “So, you know, just stay positive that hopefully, most likely, it’s just a one-year thing and everyone’s just trying to get by the best way they can. I think the local media’s done a good job of trying to report to the fans what’s going on inside the gates, which is really good to see for everybody.
“As far as the race goes, we’d love to win the race, but it certainly wouldn’t be the same without everybody there. But we’re still going to try to win, and it’s still going to be meaningful.”
Brown said his father, Jerry, spearheaded the family tradition of attending the races, especially the Travers.
He wouldn’t pinpoint any particular Travers as his favorite or most memorable as a fan, before he was a trainer.
The event itself stands alone as a joyful family festival.
“People have asked me that, and I don’t remember what year exactly,” he said. “But I know that it was as early as a young child can remember anything. Around that time frame, the first thing I remember is coming to Saratoga.
“You start as a family outing, and you do that all summer and you turn into a fan real quick. It certainly becomes part of your culture if you live up here and you’re interested in it. And I think a lot of families, that’s happened to them. Our family, for sure.”